Marketing Excellence Awards 2023 Singapore
WhatsApp needs to be in your 2023 marketing mix, but please get it right

WhatsApp needs to be in your 2023 marketing mix, but please get it right

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WhatsApp has emerged as the platform of choice for Singaporeans to engage with their brands, as is the case with respondents in Brazil, Germany, India, Indonesia, and Mexico. Around 72% of Singaporeans indicate that they would make purchases over WhatsApp, with Facebook Messenger coming in second (40%), followed by Instagram (30%).

New data from Twilio finds that conversational messaging has grown from being a “good to have” feature to a “must have” for brands looking to expand reach in Singapore. Around 6 in 10 (62%) Singapore consumers would like to make purchases directly through a conversational messaging app. In addition, close to 4 in 10 (38%) of Singaporeans shared that they would spend at least 20% more on a brand that offers conversational messaging.

“As trust becomes the key currency driving the new era of engagement, businesses that prioritise building trust over transactional engagements have a competitive advantage. Our latest research highlights the role of conversational messaging in solidifying relationships that generate both loyalty and bottom-line growth,” said David Coghill, head of solutions engineering, APJ at Twilio.

Moreover, Singapore’s online shopping landscape has evolved from one-sided, transactional engagements, to becoming a more dynamic digital experience characterised by distributed storefronts. While the initial boom of digital storefront added convenience to the lives of consumers, the eventual proliferation of eCommerce apps led to platform fragmentation. Many consumers found themselves increasingly interrupted by promotional emails and pinged with non-urgent app notifications.

In Singapore, almost half (46%) of consumers receive push notifications from at least five different brands. Overwhelmed by the constant stream of notifications, 6 in 10 (58%) shared that they would “sometimes” disable push notifications.

As WhatsApp dominates the Singapore market as a personal channel, and carries a historical perception of being safe and encrypted, the opportunity for brands to use it as a commercial channel is huge, said Richard Bleasdale, CEO of Construct Digital.

Moreover, there is opportunity for both SMEs and larger enterprises as WhatsApp has flourished due to its very simple interface and zero perceived usage cost. However, the challenge for both SMEs and larger enterprises is the uniquely personal nature of how Singaporean’s use WhatsApp.

“If they can maintain this persona and approach in how they utilise it, the opportunities are very strong,” he said.

Should WhatsApp be used for marketing or just transaction?

Bleasdale added that ideally brands using WhatsApp should see it as an inbound personalised customer servicing and support channel - but not by bots.  In fact, the study by Twilio also found that majority of respondents (71%) would rather talk to a human agent than a bot. The effectiveness of bots were also called into question where only 41% of Singapore respondents said they could solve their issues with just a chatbot.

"Simple queries, simple trouble-shooting, basic advice could well make sense for brands to potentially start with their higher value customers as a VIP or premium support/service option," Bleasdale explained. Over time as customers become more relaxed with the service and support channel – the opportunity for personalised and targeted outbound marketing messages will grow. This extension will mean the introduction of customer success specialists who are more focused on existing customers getting better or higher value out of their existing relationship with the brand.

 If brands work smartly and carefully WhatsApp offers huge potential for them.

He added that as a marketing channel, there is a huge amount to learn about how WhatsApp does and doesn’t work. “ In many ways, the smart and successful brands will be the ones that allow their customer bases to set the agenda and the tempo in how WhatsApp can be introduced most effectively into the marketing mix,” he added

Sanchit Mendiratta, managing director of Merkle Singapore echoed Bleasdale’s sentiments saying the conversational commerce will help all businesses but its imperative for all businesses to evaluate whether to use this channel to facilitate transactions, to provide service support or both.

When it comes to marketing on the platform, Mendiratta says brands need to use the platform sparingly and keep the marketing push reserved for highly personalised offers.

The customer is the queen and queen's consent is everything.

Marketing teams must also remember that while it is easy for brands to reach customers on WhatsApp, it's also easy for customers to block brands. When asked what is an appropriate number of push notification a brand should send to a marketer, Mendiratta says there is no one answer. As such Merkle’s advice to clients in such situations is to personalise even the number of push notifications and limiting it to the number of times your customer organically interacts with your app and web channels.

So, if a customer opens your app twice a day, a brand can consider sending two notifications a day. And they open the app twice a month, that's your limit - and it's a good push for a marketer to make those two notifications in a month highly relevant, contextual and personalised.

Think of the wider integration 

While brands can use WhatsApp to communicate with their existing or potential customers, the key is not to be intrusive, said Gosia Rakowska, head of commerce at Publicis Media. Moreover, WhatsApp, as a commerce tool, cannot be looked at in isolation – brands must integrate and harmonise their engagements on WhatsApp with other touchpoints, be it D2C or on marketplaces.

Frequency caps and notifications should be looked at in totality, which helps drive a holistic brand experience – and analytics plays a critical role in determining the frequency caps, level of personalisation.

Unfortunately, WhatsApp analytics is still in its infancy compared to other platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, which give brands a better gauge of their engagement with their users, explains Rakowska.

Rakowska also added that mom-and-pop businesses have been relatively successful at using the platform for commerce, as in most cases, the initiator of the conversation/purchase. Brands can learn from this and use the platform effectively by getting customers to opt-in to WhatsApp communication – which is a standard hygiene marketing practice; and leverage WhatsApp to connect directly with customers to provide services, make complementary product recommendations.

“A permission-based relationship is a powerful tool that helps build personalised communications and reduces the frustration or irritation caused by repeated notifications. By getting consent, brands are giving customers the option to customise their experience, which in turn drives higher engagement,” she added.

Understand your consumer

Beyond Singapore, markets such as Indonesia and Malaysia also have great potential when it comes to using Whatsapp for businesses, said Serm Teck Choon, Antsomi co-founder and CEO. However, he added that unlike mom-and-pop stores, big brand should not just set up a conversational channel for driving sales, but they also need to look at it from a higher level standpoint with a long-term data strategy in place.

“While using tools like WhatsApp to engage with their customers, big brands should also mine the conversational data, analyse customer behaviours, and even use the data to predict the customers’ intent and next purchase,” he added. Moreover, brands must conduct A/B testing when running push notification campaigns, and review the responses and optimise the campaigns along the way to better understand user behaviour.

Adding to the point, Twilio's report also suggested that in order to maximise the full potential of distributed storefronts, brands must invest in collecting zero and first-party data. This information, provided by customers themselves, will help a brand understand what matters to their customers the most—their pain points, their interests, and their communication habits.

“In a landscape where practically every brand has a digital storefront, businesses that offer an intuitive, genuine and interactive platform will stand out from the crowd,” said Coghill.

Notably, consumers also vastly prefer to interact with a human agent compared to bots. Twilio’s study found that while three-quarters of Singapore respondents had at least one conversation with chatbots in the past month, the majority of them (71%) would rather talk to human agents than bots. The effectiveness of bots were also called into question – only 41% of Singapore respondents said they could solve their issues with just a chatbot.

He added that ultimately, inflationary pressures and fears of a recession have meant that customers today are more deliberate in the decisions they make, and are keen to learn more about what they’re buying. “The onus is thus on the brands to provide the level of interaction to meet the needs of curious customer,” he added.

The progression of Gen Zs globally into their first professional roles, and with it a rise in disposable income, would also present new challenges and opportunities for brands.  As the generation of digital natives, Gen Zs are more resistant to traditional ads than ever. To connect with this demographic, brands have to invest in the channels these customers prefer, said the report.

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